City of Atlanta Violating Pollution Control Permit
by Jackie Echols
(from Mach 2013 newsletter)
In disregard of state and federal law, the City of Atlanta is violating the state issued permit that regulates the quality of wastewater discharged from its combined sewer overflow (CSO) system into the South River. Atlanta’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit sets limits on the types and amounts of pollution that can be released into the river from the Intrenchment Creek Combined Sewer Overflow Water Quality Control Facility located at 1501 Key Road in southeast Atlanta.
The permit was issued in January 2005, and in 2013, eight years later, Atlanta still has not complied with conditions that would improve water quality in the river. Neither has the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD) taken action to require that Atlanta comply. The violations are documented in water quality monitoring reports and written correspondence between GA EPD and City of Atlanta which were obtained by South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA) under a Georgia Open Records Act request (click here to view letter).
Under the Clean Water Act, “point source” facilities like the Intrenchment Creek CSO facility operate under a NPDES permit that sets limits on how much pollution must be removed from wastewater before it is discharged into waterways. The permit and required pollution removal amounts are intended to reduce harm to the South River by ensuring that Atlanta operates and maintains its combined sewer overflow system properly in accordance with the requirements of the law.
The 2005 permit is the first issued since major improvements to Atlanta’s CSO system were completed as a result of the 1999 Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Combined Sewer Overflow Consent Decree. Almost everyone, including the federal judge overseeing implementation of the consent decree has showered Atlanta with accolades, touting the great progress made meeting consent decree requirements. The ongoing failure of Atlanta to meet the terms of its NPDES permit calls into question whether such praise is warranted or justified.
Issued every five years, Atlanta’s current permit expired in January 2010. The 2005 permit has been administratively extended by GA EPD until a new one is issued. There is no indication when this will occur. Now in its third year, this unnecessary delay is resulting in unlawful discharges that affect biological oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS) released into South River. Both negatively affect aquatic life and the river’s overall health.
The city’s main argument for violating the permit is that the Intrenchment Creek CSO facility was not designed to meet the BOD and TSS standards. This is the same facility that was retrofitted after 1999 to comply with the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper consent decree. Even more troubling are documents obtain by SRWA that show Atlanta has asked the GA EPD to eliminate all performance requirements for BOD and TSS removal in the new permit. If this request is approved, water quality in South River will suffer as Atlanta will be allowed to discharge more pollution into the river (click here to read letter).
Restoration of the South River relies heavily upon reducing sources of pollution, improving water quality, and sustaining water quality improvements. To this end, it is absolutely necessary that GA EPD retain and enforce existing permit requirements. It is also critical, that a strenuous effort is mounted to turn back Atlanta’s attempt to reverse gains made in support of improving water quality in South River in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In the coming weeks, SRWA will be seeking the support of the community, partners, and elected officials to urge GA EPD to hurriedly complete a new draft permit for Atlanta’s combined sewer overflow system. Issuance of the draft permit will trigger a 30-day public comment period during which citizens can voice their opposition to Atlanta’s efforts to turn back the clock on South River.